College of the Atlantic has purchased six downtown Bar Harbor townhouse apartments for $2.2 million to combat an increasing lack of affordable rentals on Mount Desert Island.
The college will rent the former Bayview Townhouses at 111 Eden St. to students during the school year and continue renting the units to summer tourists when school is not in session. Kennebec Cottage Association, LLC closed on the purchase with college officials late last week, College of the Atlantic spokesman Rob Levin said.
With the purchase, College of the Atlantic joins Mount Desert Island workers, businesses and residents competing for space in a rental market being constricted by property owners opting for more lucrative weekly tourist rentals.
“We have been aware of the rental situation in Bar Harbor, and this was just a very good opportunity for us. The [townhouses’] proximity to campus really makes it something that’s very appealing,” Levin said.
Bar Harbor officials have set their sights on trying to address the town’s perennial shortage of affordable housing by reining in the practice of renting out houses for a few days at a time. The prevalence of vacation rental properties in Bar Harbor, which each summer and fall draws millions of tourists who come to enjoy the scenery and to visit Acadia National Park, has curtailed the supply of year-round housing and has inflated housing costs beyond what many local would-be residents can afford, according to some.
Employers in the area such as The Jackson Laboratory, Acadia National Park and others have said that the lack of affordable housing for their employees, many of whom are seasonal or who earn a starting-level wage, is a major hurdle to their ability to fill jobs.
According to Bar Harbor officials, state housing statistics show that the current median price of a home in town is $317,000, which is $133,000 more than what someone earning the local median income of $53,000 a year can afford.
College of the Atlantic officials jumped at the chance to buy the townhouses, which are only about 3/10 of a mile away from the college’s campus, Levin said.
“We had just enough time for some due diligence, but a lot of things are still in process,” he said.
Each townhouse apartment will likely accommodate four or five students. One or two of the apartments might also be used for guest teachers or other visitors, Levin said.
The summer housing crunch has made it more difficult for students to find apartments and to keep them through entire semesters. Students often find themselves needing to vacate by May 31 when the school typically holds its graduation by mid-June, Levin said.
Students starting school in the fall semester, meanwhile, who used to find apartments around Sept. 1, now often find themselves waiting longer as the Bar Harbor tourist season extends beyond Labor Day, Levin said.
The school typically has 300 to 350 students a year. Of them, about 45 percent find on-campus housing, Levin said.